There has been alot of opining on the asides of questions lately. People feel the need to express their opinion on how awful the situation is and how they would handle it even though it is not part of the question.

I think this is our biggest answer problem. Is there some way we can effectively discourage this? These types of answers tend to get up-votes for the opining even if their answer is not good.

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as soon as the question presents a practical problem, answers are expected to provide solution and explain why it solves the problem. Provided answer has this, I wouldn't mind a touch of opinion there. Anything else is likely a slappable :) problem - either in question or in answer (or in both) –  gnat Jan 16 '13 at 21:07
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I agree with @gnat. I find nothing wrong with a bit of opinion in an answer, providing the opinion isn't the entire answer. We're a community of humans, and I don't think we should be trying to hide or eliminate our "humanness". It's part of what makes us a community, and not Google or Ask Jeeves. –  Rachel Jan 16 '13 at 21:28
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Shouldnt those be answers we can up or down vote? –  Chad Jan 16 '13 at 21:29
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@gnat I thought the two answers were "slap XXX" or "ask your boss." Bonus points if you can slap your boss –  enderland Jan 16 '13 at 23:06
    
" Please note that answers should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct." All of that begs opinion, IMO –  kolossus Jan 21 '13 at 19:39
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@Kolossus - I am not asking about opinions that are the answer but rather opining about asides, especially things like well if you have that situation at your workplace then perhaps rather than dealing with the problem that is not someplace you want to work. –  Chad Jan 21 '13 at 19:57
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3 Answers

While this information is somewhat buried in the depths of the FAQ, I thought I'd highlight a point from How to Answer:

Answer the question

Read the question carefully. What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – or a viable alternative. The answer can be “don’t do that”, but it should also include “try this instead”. Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful, but do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer. Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better.

The way I interpret this is that if someone asks how to do X in situation Y, it's perfectly acceptable to explain that it's not a good idea and why, and then explain an alternative and explain why the alternative is better.

This happens all the time on Stack Overflow. For instance, if someone asks a question about how to properly format chat messages received in a Web based chat, and I see they're using polling, I'll let them know that polling just isn't really the way to go. As an aside, I'll provide an answer to their questions as it applies to polling, assuming there is an answer, but I'm always sure to explain why it's just not a good idea.

I see nothing wrong with this approach.

However, if someone didn't address the full question, then we may want to suggest they add more information. I do this by asking follow up questions to the answerers, but the follow ups are taken from the question itself. This is one way we can get people to add more to their answers without putting them on the defensive.

Also, in some other instances, there's an implied answer. For example, one answerer explained that vacation time is an entitlement and part of your pay, but he didn't explicitly say, "So take your darn vacation already :)". So, I just added that part in as an edit so it was clearer to others that he was saying the asker should take his well-deserved vacation.

Lastly, I feel it's difficult to discuss this without specific examples. We discuss specific questions here all the time, so feel free to bring in examples of answers as well. As long as we do it in a respectful manner, we should be able to have an effective discussion about what we can do better. Hope this helps! :)

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I am specifically talking about all the suggestions to get a different job or I wouldn't even want that job in the first place. They are not helpful at all. The other thing I see alot is here is my non answer about why your situation sucks and my similar experience. They get upvotes but are useless. –  Chad Jan 17 '13 at 4:58
    
A really good specific example is here –  enderland Jan 17 '13 at 15:56
    
The way I interpret this is that if someone asks how to do X in situation Y, it's perfectly acceptable to explain that it's not a good idea and why, and then explain an alternative and explain why the alternative is better. I strongly disagree with this. This site is a Q/A site, not "Dear Workplace" If we become tolerant of what you say there it's going to be really hard to keep a Q/A feel. –  enderland Jan 17 '13 at 16:26
    
There are simply too many unknown factors in 99% of situations to try to give corrective advice in the fashion you describe. It works in technical situations, because, well, normally you don't have to deal with real people, emotions, personalities, a variety of personal interests, and the other mountain of complicated factors people add to situations. From a 1-3 paragraph question it is almost ALWAYS impossible to know "oh, you are asking this, but you really should do this instead" because we never have enough details –  enderland Jan 17 '13 at 16:28
    
The question I linked above is a perfect example. We have literally a PARAPHRASED question which was "something like" the quoted text. We have TONS of users who are taking this one, paraphrased "something like" question and drawing outrageous conclusions about the motives of the asker, the intent of the question, calling it a test, and a whole variety of other ridiculous things which are impossible to know or even guess on. This is terribly bad for our site. –  enderland Jan 17 '13 at 16:30
    
Hi @enderland, can you pull a specific answer or two out of the question you cite? We analyze questions all the time to look at them for constructiveness, so there's no reason we can't do the same for specific answers. I really want to try to understand your point, and I feel like specific examples of answers are necessary. –  jmort253 Jan 19 '13 at 22:09
    
@jmort253 see here –  enderland Jan 20 '13 at 22:38
    
this question has, as of this comment, 6 answers - 5 of them completely miss the point of the question and the only one which addresses it is formatted in such a way it got to -4. None of them address the actual problem, all address a non-written question of "how do I stop a coworker from touching me?" which is COMPLETELY different than the asked question. –  enderland Jan 29 '13 at 16:44
    
Hi @enderland, sorry for taking so long to get back to you. On this particular question, I also was one of the answerers, so it's possible I may be a little biased. I focused on the "is there an effective way to disarm this gesture" part of the question, and I felt like most of the answers addressed techniques for disarming the pats on the back, whether it be taking some action or simply learning to ignore it. As for the deleted post, it focused solely on the handshake, which wasn't really part of the question or the problem the asker was facing. I support the community decision to remove it. –  jmort253 Jan 30 '13 at 4:25
    
cont'd - Other than that, the answers that are downvoted still seem like answers, even though we may disagree with the information provided. As for judging whether or not something is an answer, I look at whether or not the person provided explanation, and whether or not they provided an answer, or a viable alternative as outlined in How to Answer –  jmort253 Jan 30 '13 at 4:27
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I agree completely tolerance of "I think/feel like you should do XXX (even though your question was about something different!)" types of answer are a huge problem here. In fact, I've written a (small?) treatise on this subject.

I have fewer problems when answers are:

Here is the answer to your question from an objective perspective

....

That being said, I think you should do XXX or I think you should be asking YYYY


The problem is we frequently get

I think you should do XXX

or

Here's the answer to a different question!

types of answers which don't even answer the question but still get upvoted. People have said previously they don't want to DV these answers as long as they are useful (and it is really easy given the content of our site to add a useful but non-answer, see here, specifically "Everyone is an expert here (or can pretend...)."

This answer (as well as a lot of other answers there) is a particularly good example of this problem - the question has always been a question centered around culture differences at all points in the revision history - but many answers never addressed this part of the question! Chad and I discussed this in chat too at the time.

My point is: none of the answers to that question initially addressed the core problem the asker specifically articulated. All of them were "oh you are wondering about whether to take your vacation time? yah you should take it!" answers. None of them addressed the reasons the asker felt uncomfortable with taking the vacation time (including the top answer; this has been changed since the last update however).


I should add a disclaimer that I am consistently posting comments along the lines of "this doesn't answer the question" when I see this... so it should be fairly obvious my thoughts on this whole matter :-)

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I should add this is even more of a problem when we consistently have popular questions (which seems to be the trend as of late...) –  enderland Jan 16 '13 at 23:43
    
Its the popular non questions that are teh problem as soon as they become legit questions most of them lose their popularity –  Chad Jan 17 '13 at 4:59
    
@Chad yes, but, when we have lots of people visit who are less experienced with TW its amplified with additional questions/answers from these people –  enderland Jan 17 '13 at 16:34
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With this being the most blatant offender though almost every answer does question if they actually want to work there. –  Chad Jan 17 '13 at 16:41
    
Well, I disagree with your characterization of my answer on the PTO question (which always addressed the culture question, and also the norms question when it was more prominent), but otherwise I agree with this answer. We get way too many answers that never actually address the question. –  Monica Cellio Jan 21 '13 at 15:39
    
@MonicaCellio the pre-edit version of your answer did not :-) –  enderland Jan 23 '13 at 17:18
    
@enderland: "Your main problem, though, is a cultural one..." (v1). –  Monica Cellio Jan 23 '13 at 17:31
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@jmort253, I felt the best way to address your comment question was to add another answer.

Here is the question.

The question was:

  • Can anyone suggest a better way of handling something like this so that I do not exclude myself from consideration?

Here are my thoughts on all the answers:

  • First answer - this answers the question fine, provides explanation
  • Second answer - this provides an answer which is an alternative to the top voted one, but makes no attempt to distinguish "personal advice" vs "answering question"ness
  • Third answer - this also answers question well, provides explanation, and provides a clear "if I were you" distinction
  • Fourth answer - this copies content from the first answer effectively by combining phrases together, doesn't really add anything but got upvoted
  • Fifth answer - this doesn't even attempt to answer the question
  • Sixth answer - this one is worse, because it contains misleading content (regarding legality) and also doesn't even attempt to answer the question yet only received 2 downvotes as of writing
  • Seventh answer - while technically an answer, it's really poor quality and doesn't even attempt to explain "why"
  • Eighth answer - I'm including this because the user has 1k+ rep here, but it doesn't even attempt to address the specific question

Other than the top three answers and two "delete me" answers, there were 6 answers to that question which were mediocre at best -- with the only one receiving more than two downvotes being the "I'm a bad poster" answer posted in a spamming spree.


Another question

Here is the most popular question we've gotten on here as far as I know. Doing the same thing:

  • First answer - this is a good answer, though it ignores the "why" factor completely for much of it and doesn't actually say
  • Second answer - this is the best answer I think, though, it basically just expands a prior answer (third)
  • Third answer - pretty decent answer, not really explained but mostly self explanatory
  • Fourth answer - this is also a decent answer, since it explains "why" employee should be fired, but is still pretty "meh"
  • Fifth answer - this answer basically ignores the heart of the question and tells the asker, "sorry you should just deal with it" when the question is clear this is not an easy nor feasible option
  • Sixth answer - good suggestion for how to solve the problem
  • Seventh answer - this basically copies the fourth answer and only adds additional personal content
  • Eighth answer - this answer literally says "I'm not sure anybody can really give you much advice here" and yet received only 1 downvote when all it does is expand on that
  • Ninth answer - this answer is TERRIBLE by subjective answer standards; 3 downvotes
  • Tenth answer - this doesn't answer the question at all, and basically repeats content elsewhere anyways (1 DV)
  • Eleventh answer - this answer basically says "idk what you should do" but only got 3 DVs
  • Twelfth answer - this adds nothing new, but, hey, it at least answers the question

The rest are very much repeating previous answers without adding anything, with the exception of this one which actually might be the best answer in this question.

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Thanks for putting this together enderland with so much detail. I'll see if I can take a look at this later this evening but am tied up at the moment. ;) –  jmort253 Jan 21 '13 at 1:32
    
Your analysis doesn't cover matters of presentation. If, say, an answer "combining" some parts of previously posted ones, presents the things in a way superior to "prior art", what would be your take on this? –  gnat Jan 21 '13 at 10:57
    
@gnat - On the whole it should be a new answer. If the answer is just a remix of previous answers with out adding value to them it is still a just remix. And the answer should explain why the remix is right where the individual answers were not sufficient by them selves. –  Chad Jan 21 '13 at 20:07
    
@Chad that's what I am asking about. Could presentation be considered as added value? As for remix, how could author know that, are they assumed to always check everything that has been posted before? if yes, how thoroughly? –  gnat Jan 21 '13 at 22:34
    
...don't get me wrong I'll DV the unattributed remix the instant I recognize it. But if, say, I see handful of wall-of-texts and vague remarks contrasted with an answer that is clear, accurate, easy to read and understand, the last thing I'd do would be analyzing whether it somehow (intentionally or not) repeats what was stated before –  gnat Jan 22 '13 at 8:08
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@gnat - I agree that a good answer is always a good answer. And I do not think we are trying to go after the good answers that repeat something some one else said. Most of these are at least going to explain why better. That is adding value. –  Chad Jan 22 '13 at 14:22
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@gnat if we solve the problem of mediocre answers not addressing the problem or doing so in a really poor fashion (ie not matching the FAQ quality requirements) then I'll worry about answers which just shameless aim for rep by copying existing answers. –  enderland Jan 22 '13 at 14:35
    
@enderland that makes good sense - thanks for explaining –  gnat Jan 22 '13 at 15:54
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